Following last week’s installment of Patch Back, readers across southwest Connecticut commented, emailed and approached me on the street to share their views on the Time magazine cover and attachment parenting in general.
Most who commented and emailed agreed with my story and shared their thoughts and experiences. Others felt it was too judgmental and let me know in no uncertain terms.
The central point, which is that attachment parenting reduces the role of the father and places unrealistic expectations on pressure-packed new mothers, got lost. One very insightful reader, BJ Forlenzo of Naugatuck, noted that using the term “help” to describe what fathers do is demeaning to dads. She wrote, “It gives the appearance that they are doing something ‘for’ you instead of ‘with’ you.”
Right on, and duly noted!
As we all know, life in southwest Connecticut has its plusses (great schools and wonderful family-oriented communities) and its minuses (intense pressure and extraordinary materialism). And many parents (not just moms), anxious to see their children succeed and ready to do whatever it takes to ensure that success, extend themselves beyond what’s appropriate and — yes, I am attempting to persuade you because that’s what opinion columnists do — inadvertently put more pressure on themselves, their marriages and their kids.
We see it on the field and in the classroom and on stage. Parents don’t coach soccer anymore — we hire professionals to do it for us. Little Sally got a B in English and didn’t make it into honors math? Time to bring in the tutors! We hire college admissions consultants for Ivy League prep and attorneys when school administrators’ decisions don’t suit our desires and insist on special treatment for ourselves and our children.
We hover over every decision, every homework assignment and every missed opportunity with the quiet admonishment I just want to make sure you’re trying your best.
And then we wonder why kids act spoiled one day and anxious the next.
The notion that children are a reflection of their parents has never been more fully realized than today. And while I believe that’s essentially correct — haven’t we taken our competitive parenting tactics a bit far?
I’ve heard parents stammer and offer explanations because their children were placed in grade-appropriate classes or because a child doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe soccer, as if it’s not OK to have interests that extend beyond our society’s traditional predictors of achievement.
I bet you have, too.
When are we going to wake up and smell the coffee? Moms and Dads — but Moms especially — bear the emotional brunt of their children’s accomplishments (and failures). Why are we putting so much pressure on ourselves? Is it because — like the attachment parenting conundrum — we spent years educating ourselves and working up the corporate ladder only to have children and discover that we won’t be happy unless we compete at that, too? And what about our kids, who may just want to sit around in their pajamas on Saturday morning and watch Spongebob instead of meet the new oboe teacher (because the old one wasn’t good enough)?
The problem is this: when we measure our success as parents by the grades our children earn or the number of goals they scored at lacrosse last Saturday, we do ourselves a disservice. We have lost our perspective in our race to nowhere. (have you seen the movie? You should.) And yet, while most moms I speak with agree that we let our quest for achievement get in the way of common sense, none of us are getting off the treadmill.
Well, we’re getting off right now. No more chasing — one sport per kid, per season. One extra activity if they so choose, and we will encourage creative pursuits. We will enforce limits on scheduled activities because kids need free time. We eat together every night no matter what, even if it’s at 8:30 because everybody got home late. No college advisory services — that’s what my husband and I are for. My kids may not have the fanciest resumes or the most elite backgrounds, but they will know love, hard work, respect, discipline and honesty.
And their accomplishments will be their own.